The drifter I let charge his phone off my car battery at the South Medford Burger King told me that he has three children by an ex-wife in the area and a fourth by an ex-girlfriend in Portland, with whom he’s still hoping to get back together. PDX Brat, he said, is of kindergarten age and just inside the catchment area for Woodstock Elementary, which offers a Mandarin immersion program for, shall we say, little mandarins in training. The drifter regards this program, reasonably enough, as overly aggressive bullshit for kids who are just starting school for the first time. (The Mandarin immersion constituency, I’ll hazard a wild guess, is less enthusiastic about intensive English immersion for the bilingually educable campesino crowd, and for opposite but politically consistent reasons.) Drifter has, by his very loose reckoning, gotten to the liberating point of not giving a shit about money because he’s pissed or given it all away. Personally, I prefer to have $250 or even $730 (a cent and a half of interest a day) on deposit at Capital One 360, but I guess I’m less evolved in a reefer-ate-some-holes-in-my-brains way. It’s all cool.
Drifter told me that he had a squat in Southeast Portland, a house that he had purchased on a mortgage that he decided, for reasons he didn’t explain, to stop paying. Poor Wells Fargo, I’m sure. In the months before the bank finally ran his white ass off the property, one of the prison gangbangers he had invited to crash with him at his pad went out front and set fire to a car on the street. “You don’t know any of these guys,” he told me, and he was right: I don’t keep up on my Oregon prison gangs, so I hadn’t the foggiest. But as far as PDX Baby Mama is concerned, he’s still keeping the dream alive. Women, man: sometimes they act like they weren’t put on this earth to live in a Nickelback musical.
After Drifter split with his phone (at 25% charged; I’d have let him charge it the whole way if he’d had time) to go chasing his Rogue Valley waterfalls, I gave a really sorry-looking old bastard a five spot to get a burger because he said that he was a vet from Corpus Christi with a regular check coming in but he was on his way to Seattle or some shit but he had had only enough money left to get as far as Medford because the lawyers had taken the rest. I felt bad for impatiently shoving the bill into his hand and driving off instead of hanging around to see if he wanted me to lend an ear. He sounded a lot more reputable than his esteemed contacts at the bar, but I just didn’t feel like I had it in me to listen to more of that kind of thing. I try to be a Christian sometimes, but I’m afraid I don’t have what it takes to be Christ.
Lucky us, though, the Grey Lady is standing by to fill us all in on those of our fellow Americans who maintain properly godlike conceptions of themselves as most generous white saviors. What do they deserve for charitable acts so evolved that they purchase entire orphanages in places like Botswana? Why, spots for their precious snowflakes at institutions like Harvard. That’s what. It’s justification by very expensive works, and these works are informed by faithful right thinking about the inferiority of the darkies–I mean, the vulnerability of the victims of colonialism and, ohmuhgawd, these African kiddos are so cute, I can hardly stand to go back to my 95% white town in Michigan and its market saturation of Panera–so admission to one of the better historically White colleges is the least they deserve.
Translation: we need to get Parker here admitted to Harvard and Kwesi Millington immediately sworn in as sheriff. Well, shucks, how DOES that keep popping up in the chronicles of super racist-acting rich white people from a state that’s still resolving the most serious acute municipal water safety crisis in the country, a crisis poisoning a poor, majority black city? Crazy Millington? You made that up. We never endorsed a thing like that to be our sheriff. Oh, no, I didn’t, and yes, you did. Frank Bruni, who has been turned into a world-class shit magnet by his reporting beat, was contacted by one Dylan Hernandez, 17, of Flint–yes, that Flint–whose classmates at a pricey Catholic high school keep posting Facebook updates from their awfully short “mission trips” (his scare quotes, not mine) to Central America and, waka waka hey hey, Africa, and never showing up to volunteer at the Flint YMCA, like he does.
This, the missionaries imply, constitutes Catholicism in action. Take as much of the communion wine as you find soothing, Father. Surely it will fortify you better than it will your parish’s jetsetting shitbirds.
Seriously, try to imagine being a priest who sincerely wants to minister to the needy and the troubled and do everything he can to improve their lot and instead finds himself assigned to a parish or a high school that caters to this crowd. As thoughtfully antidemocratic as the Roman Catholic Church is in many regards, a parish’s parishioners are its priests’ constituents, even if the priests are unwaveringly principled and the parishioners are a bunch of unrepentant self-dealing assholes. No parish priest can transcend this sort of aristocratic rebellion. Even a diocese, if it attempts more than the token redistribution of collections from wealthy, wasteful parishes to poor ones that could better use the money, would risk provoking one of the most shitheaded schisms in Christian history, the inadvertent catechesis of Anglicans of convenience. Even Henry VIII, a psychopath, split in order to free himself from crooked bishops and popes who wouldn’t give him their blessing to chase fresh tail. These highbrow Catholic fuckheads in Michigan make Luther look better than ever. Luther was out of his mind, the biggest pain in the ass a confessor had to tolerate before he did an about-face and rebuked the sacrament of penance in its entirety.
The extreme measures moneyed parents take to enrich (heh) their children all the way to Yale are the result of socioeconomic segregation. In the case of parents buying orphanages and AIDS clinics for their strivespawn, the segregation is extreme. If these families socialized with anyone from the lower stations, they would be deeply ashamed to get caught buying orphanages or clinics in the Third World expressly for the purpose of facilitating their children’s college admission essays. Their community would roundly regard anything of the sort as extremely tacky and insensitive, and probably downright obscene. Instead, they run with a very narrow crowd of their very affluent peers, who believe in admission to the Ivies at all costs. They socialize with other cutthroat social climbers who, like them, believe in “safety schools” and “reach schools” earnestly enough not to feel like vomiting when they hear such terms. They get their social affirmation from peers who find nothing untoward about using charity in the most craven fashion possible as a stepping stone to continued affluence and power. Normal people wouldn’t keep a straight face if they were told about such horseshit, but these are affluent, sheltered social climbers who very deliberately, if subconsciously, shield themselves from the normal by surrounding themselves with the abnormal, specifically, their fellow affluenza cases.
These poverty tourism stunts are worse than the direct bribery of admissions officers. They’re more destructive. Direct bribery is more honest. Some rich shithead has the shame of knowing that he paid his brat’s way into Chode Hall, and some shithead who hopes to get rich in spite of his admissions lackey’s salary has the shame of knowing that he took a bribe. Families that buy “enrichment” experiences tailored to impress admissions committees, however, may well actually think that they’re doing God’s work. It’s hard to say for sure what the hell they’re actually thinking; their behavior and their self-justifications are so disordered that they probably don’t really know themselves. Bribery doesn’t give its parties any cause to lecture others about moral rectitude, because it’s obviously crooked. Orphanage stunts, on the other hand, can be twisted to look charitable, as can the cost of purchasing a family orphanage when it is deducted from the family tax bill. These “service” experiences offer ways to say, look at us, we care. They’re top-notch morality-whoring exercises.
It’s hard to believe that so many different kinds of wrongness can be wrapped into one neat, trendy package of shit. These stunts remind me of much of what I found so infuriating about the social climbers I knew at Dickinson College, but inflated and distorted beyond my wildest nightmares. They’re reminiscent of wealthy Medieval Catholics buying indulgences from the Church, allowing morality to be bought at a financial price. They’re the Clinton Foundation writ small but multiplied by a factor of thousands. They pervert community service from something freely given by a free citizen to something performed under duress for personal advantage, much as it is when a court orders a convict to pick up trash off a highway shoulder as punishment for kiting checks. They inspire a grotesquely inflated sense of self-righteousness among people who frankly verge on the mean and the coarse, people who have scant charity to spare for their desperately poor and marginalized neighbors. They wreck the fellow feeling of Americans.
If a passerby or a cop happens by the gas station and tells Mixups in my Mind to back off and stop yelling at his fellow about how the dog got into the rotisserie chicken, Mixups will probably back off. That’s humility. The assholes in the rich parts of Flint with the overseas mission trips have none. The even richer assholes who buy their children essay orphanages have even less. I’m not kidding: it can in fact be easier and more profitable to rebuke a paranoid schizophrenic vagrant than a perfectly sane and financially secure householder who still isn’t satisfied. Something to do with camels and the eyes of needles, I think.
I honestly never imagined it would get so bad. I always assumed that parents rich enough to buy clinics to use as essay muses for their put-upon children would bribe some underpaid admissions beancounter with a chip on his shoulder instead. I believed Michael O. Church’s claim that their kind would blackmail sexually eccentric deans for admissions slots for their brats. Buying a fucking orphanage? That never occurred to me. It gets uglier and uglier. It gets ever more desperate.
Mao had a point about reeducation through agriculture. I’m at a loss to think of anything less that will do the job.